Wearing a Northwood University jacket that sported the name "Coach Mass" on the breast, Rollie Massimino walked onto the Rupp Arena court Wednesday for the first time since his Villanova team beat Georgetown in the 1985 national championship game.
"It looks a little different," he said in understating this return to the scene of the sublime. "Still a beautiful building."
After some prodding, Massimino acknowledged the history he and his Villanova team made in Rupp Arena.
"Obviously, a very historic moment, and we respect that and we appreciate that," he said. "It was great for the fans, great for the university (and) for all of us. It made us very proud just to be in the profession."
Northwood, an NAIA Division II school (enrollment 750) based in West Palm Beach, Fla., plays Kentucky on Thursday night in an exhibition game. It was a game and a return that Massimino requested, UK Coach John Calipari said.
Massimino had said that this would be his final season as a coach, Calipari said.
"I don't know if it's my last," Massimino said with a smile. "I hope I can go another year or so."
Massimino, who turns 78 on Nov. 13, said he seeks such a game against a high-profile opponent every season. The Seahawks lost 85-57 at Michigan State on Tuesday, and in the past, they have played Florida, Villanova, Fordham, Maryland and Miami, Fla.
"It's a wonderful experience for our players," Massimino said after expressing thanks to Calipari for agreeing to the game. "Not many teams on our level have this kind of opportunity."
Northwood had a 34-4 record last season, which ended with a loss in the NAIA Division II national championship game. That marked a second straight Final Four appearance for a program that Massimino started as a club team in 2005-06. The Seahawks are ranked No. 1 going into this season.
Calipari spoke of the exhibition as an instructive moment for his freshman-oriented team against a well-schooled veteran team (Northwood). Massimino smiled knowingly.
"Well, they're ranked third in the country," he said of the Cats. "That's a pretty good definition of how good they can be."
Calipari downplayed the importance of an announcement Tuesday that the NCAA would adopt tougher penalties in cases of rule breaking.
As part of supposed tougher penalties in the future, the NCAA said it would hold head coaches more responsible when assistants or players are found to have violated rules.
"Have you heard of (the term) 'strict liability?'" Calipari said. "You are presumed to know, from what they say. If you did not have anything to do with it, you're presumed to know."
The term "strict liability" was used when the NCAA retroactively stripped Calipari-coached Memphis of its 2008 Final Four appearance. That was part of the penalty for then-Memphis freshman Derrick Rose being declared to have had a fraudulent score on a college entrance exam.
The NCAA Committee on Infractions penalized Memphis even though the school had earlier been told that Rose was eligible. Citing "strict liability," the NCAA levied punishment on the Memphis program.
Of this week's announcement of tougher penalties, Calipari said, "I don't know why they're not using the term (strict liability). But that's what it is. That's what they're saying."
The term "strict liability" previously applied "to most cases, not all," Calipari said. "Now it's going to be all."
The new penalties for head coaches include suspensions that can range from 10 percent of the season to an entire season, the NCAA said.
As part of the new guidelines, which go into effect next Aug. 1, the NCAA expanded the Committee on Infractions from 10 to 24 members. The intention is to speed the process by having subcommittees handle cases.
Calipari said several players are "way better" than last season. Those players were Kyle Wiltjer, Ryan Harrow, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson, the UK coach said.
Calipari agreed with the notion that he's a tinkerer at this stage. "What I'm tinkering with is combinations," he said. "Trying to figure out, when these guys are in together, how do we play?"
When asked what impressions the combinations have made on him so far, the UK coach said, "None, really. I'm just trying to watch tape and see what I'm comfortable with."
Transfer Julius Mays, by far the graybeard for this Kentucky team, said he's more than a player. "I'm also a teacher," he said.
When asked how he teaches his teammates, Mays said, "Little things as far as position on defense, how to use your body, how to get over a screen."